At Brownstone Intermediate School in Portland, Connecticut, Principal Laurie Boske begins each day by announcing an affirming, empowering message for her students: “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.”
“I live my own life that way. I choose to make it a great day,” she adds.
Laurie grew up in Berlin, Connecticut and attended Southern Connecticut State University and later, UMass at Amherst, where she earned her Masters of Arts in Communication Disorders. She worked as a speech pathologist in the Middletown school system for 17 years before she returned to Southern to obtain her administrator’s certification, hoping to better help special education students.
Laurie became the Director of Special Education in Bolton for four years and then took a position closer to home as the assistant principal in Cromwell. In 2007, she accepted her current position in Portland. She loves “the connection with families, students, staff. We have fun and we laugh, but we also get the work done. In 2011 we became a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.”
She met her husband Ron in 1986 after she’d applied for a summer job as a police dispatcher for the Rocky Hill Police Department. He was the officer who was administering the aptitude test necessary for the position. She never got the job, but she did get Ron. They lived in the same apartment complex and made intentional efforts to run into each other. They dated awhile, married, and had a son, Collin, who is now 23.
“Ron was serious at times but also goofy,” says Laurie. “He really cared about his job and wanted to be the best he could be.”
Ron entered the Marine Corps right out of high school, served six years (two years each in Washington D.C.; Newport, Rhode Island; and Okinawa Japan), and received an honorable discharge. Then he became a police officer, eventually leaving his position as sergeant at the police department in Rocky Hill to work with the Connecticut State Police as a firearms instructor, and in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services division. Ron’s father had also been a state trooper. Family was a huge priority for him.
“He really loved just doing stuff for me,” says Laurie. “He cared about me and Collin. He was our vacation planner and a grill master. Every year we would go to our timeshare in Newport, Rhode Island for one week.”
But there were continuing tensions as well. Ron, a high-functioning alcoholic, struggled with an addiction that created distance between him and Laurie.
He rarely took a sick day, but the week of his death, they had both been home sick. “He had a cough and wouldn’t go to the doctor,” recalls Laurie. The day Laurie had to return to work, she left Ron in bed. At school she received a call that Ron had collapsed in the grocery store and was in the hospital. It was later revealed that he had died in the neighborhood market from problems associated with his drinking. That was March 29, 2011. He was 54 years old.
Laurie returned to work after the funeral, hoping to set the example for the kids and staff that life goes on, “even when it sucks sometimes.” She and Collin brought Ron’s ashes to Arlington National Cemetery for a ceremony with honors including a gun salute and the playing of taps. Last December, she returned to Arlington, where she volunteered with Wreaths across America, working with others to lay wreaths on veterans’ graves at over 800 locations throughout America.
Laurie’s capacity for loss had been strengthened, if that can ever be said, through other monumental losses in her life. He father committed suicide 11 years ago at the age of 80, and she lost her best friend, The Reverend Dr. Janet Ritchie, to ovarian cancer in 2001. She carries three Mass cards in her wallet and is quick to share them as she shares her story. In some way they are her tokens of survival in trying times.
But she does so much more than survive. She thrives.
After losing Ron she felt a need to “re-invent” herself. “It’s been about gaining control. I felt like life was out of control. I thought, ‘What do I want to do when I grow up?’”
First, she went on line and found support for practical chores like dealing with paperwork and legal issues. Then she decided to bring to fruition some of the items that had been on her and Ron’s “to do” list. Making improvements to make her house her own felt good and gave her a sense that life wasn’t quite so out of control. Projects included remodeling her kitchen, changing the fireplace over to gas, and tearing down her deck to make a patio. She redesigned her wedding and engagement rings them into one ring that she now wears on her middle finger.
“This is me in my new life,” she says. “Our house, over 25 years old, was falling apart. Insurance allowed me to make some changes. I felt a little guilty about that. But it’s not my time to stop living. Ron died, I didn’t. It sucks and it’s awful, but I’m a positive person. In my life I try to see the good in everything. I miss his companionship, but I don’t think I’ll get married again. And I’m not going to stop doing things I like because Ron has died. I do think about downsizing at some point.”
Others benefit from Laurie’s new life. She volunteers at the Connecticut Humane Society where she occasionally fosters pets; she also acts as an ambassador for the organization. She also volunteers her time at Catales Inc., (also known as Cat Tales), a rescue organization in Middletown, where she cleans litter and cages, feeds cats, and gives medication as needed. She has been donating blood through the Red Cross for more than 25 years. Whether she is caring for her aging mother, guiding her son through college, nurturing young minds at her school, or caring for our furry friends, her offerings of love and care continues well past her pain. This woman of great strength feels compelled to enrich the lives of others.
“I’ve always felt it’s important to give back. I’m trying to find my passion so that I have some direction in retirement. I don’t plan to sit around but plan to spend a lot of time volunteering.”
She suggests that potential volunteers find their own passion by asking themselves what makes them smile. “What are your own interests? Head toward those.”
“Grief is like a wave, out of the blue, it hits you,” says Laurie. “But I’ve got to keep moving and enjoy my life and give back to the people, a lot of good friends, who have kept me going. Each day I say to the kids, “Make it a great day or not, the choice is yours.” I choose to make it a great day.”